CAPE TOWN - The construction Coronavirus Rapid Response Task Team has called on the government to allow a phased reactivation of the sector, beginning with an immediate reactivation of sites that were shut down last month.
The Task Team said yesterday that the industry could potentially cushion the impact of an anticipated increase in unemployment after the lockdown.
Chairperson John Matthews said the team last week submitted detailed proposals for a phased reopening that would include strict guidelines on health and safety systems, and was asked to provide more details to senior government ministers at the weekend.
Matthews said the lockdown had a positive impact in preventing cases of occupationally acquired infections on construction sites and provided the industry with an opportunity to augment health and safety systems.
“We used this period to adapt health and safety systems,” Matthews said. “We have also identified qualifying construction sites that are ready for immediate re-activation.”
The task team is made up of Master Builders South Africa, Association of South African Quantity Surveyors, Western Cape Property Development Forum, South African Institute of Architects, Black Business Council in the Built Environment, Consulting Engineers of South Africa, Association of Construction Project Managers, South African Institution of Civil Engineering, South African Black Technical and Allied Careers Organisation, South African Women in Construction, The Concrete Institute of South Africa, Cox Yeats Attorneys and Master Builders KwaZulu-Natal as the convener.
Matthews said the team also submitted a detailed risk and mitigation plan to the Department of Public Works. He said the plan includes a requirement for companies to be considered for the phased reopening and a suitable operational plan to prevent transmission of the virus.
Matthews said the industry was concerned about irrecoverable damage to critical infrastructure projects and possible loss of equipment and material at construction sites.
“A continued lack of activity of these projects could mean we do not have any sites to return to when the lockdown is eventually lifted,” he said. “Hence the call for an immediate re-activation of work on live construction sites and for the resumption of professional planning, costing and design work that supports such work.”
The industry was already facing significant challenges, including the lack of work, late and non-payment and uncontrolled illegal construction site invasions that resulted in reported company closures and loss of jobs before the lockdown.
Matthews said the government should undertake the planned public infrastructure spending as announced in the medium-term expenditure framework for positive knock-on effects on economic recovery and growth through the multiplier effect.
“This was a proven model for economic recovery that has been used by many countries emerging out of periods of crisis,” he said.
Despite bearing some of the highest burden of the pandemic, the governments of the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, China and Italy had re-opened their construction industries and committed to increased public infrastructure spending as part of their post-pandemic economic recovery plans.